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Sisters in Islam

By:
Meredith L. Weiss
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Sisters in Islam

Sisters in Islam (SIS) is a small but vocal and contentious Malaysian nongovernmental organization (NGO). Founded in 1988, SIS is premised on an understanding of Islam as supporting rights of equality and human dignity for men and women. Those practices and values that subordinate or demean women, SIS argues, stem from men's control of interpretation of the Qurʿān, and inaccurately represent both the best interests of the ummah (Muslim community) and the position of women in public life at the time of the Prophet.

SIS describes its mission as a committment “to promote an awareness of the true principles of Islam, principles that enshrine the concept of equality between women and men, and to strive towards creating a society that upholds the Islamic principles of equality, justice, freedom and dignity within a democratic state.” (SIS 2007) Its three core objectives are:To promote and develop a framework of women's rights in Islam, which takes into consideration women's experiences and realities;To eliminate injustice and discrimination against women by changing practices and values that regard women as inferior to men;To create public awareness, and reform laws and policies, on issues of equality, justice, freedom, dignity and democracy in Islam.Based in a suburb of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, SIS was founded by a group of eight Muslim female professionals. Initially an informal social and discussion group, it evolved into a more formal structure, with an emphasis on study, research, and public outreach. Most members still are professionals with largely secular education, including academics, journalists, artists, and lawyers. The group has never been a mass organization, though it aims to reach and influence the general public as well as religious and political officials.

Its primary approach is detailed textual analysis of the Qurʿān and secondary texts, presented in a series of booklets and other publications. SIS also runs a legal clinic, publishes a newsletter and regular columns on Islamic family law in local media, issues periodic letters to the editor and press releases, gives interviews to local and international media, and has organized study sessions, public lectures, and conferences on issues ranging from aurat (parts of the body required to be covered) and Islamic dress to HIV/AIDS. SIS also runs training workshops on women's rights in Islam for grassroots women's leaders, journalists, lawyers, and others. It has also addressed issues such as the implications of implementing ḥudūd (Islamic criminal law) or an Islamic state in Malaysia, women as syariah (Ar. sharīʿah, Islamic law) court judges, polygamy and divorce, reproductive health and rights, domestic violence, moral policing, and women's status and roles in Islam in general.

SIS also collaborates with other Malaysian NGOs, particularly women's groups. Most notably, SIS joined other local women's organizations in pressing for passage of a Domestic Violence Act in the early 1990s. SIS's contribution was especially important in ensuring that the act would cover both Muslims and non-Muslims; Malaysia has separate jurisdictions in family law under civil and syariah courts for non-Muslims and Muslims, respectively. The group also maintains ties with international Muslim women's organizations and activists.

Though tolerated by the government, SIS has come under repeated challenge in Malaysia from public officials, fellow activists, and the Islamist political opposition. Its positions and approaches remain controversial.

See also MALAYSIA; and WOMEN AND SOCIAL REFORM, subentry OVERVIEW.

Bibliography

  • Saliha Hassan. “Islamic Non-Governmental Organisations.” In Social Movements in Malaysia: From Moral Communities to NGOs, edited by Meredith L. Weiss and Saliha Hassan, pp. 97–114. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
  • Sisters in Islam. www.sistersinislam.org.my (accessed Sept. 5, 2008) Official website of the organization.
  • Wadud-Muhsin, Amina. “Sisters in Islam: Effective Against All Odds.” In Silent Voices, edited by Doug A. Newson and Bob J. Carrell, pp. 117–38. Lanham, Md., and London, 1995.
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